Auto dealers swamped as trade-in rebate ends

Mon Aug 24, 2009 7:17pm EDT
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By Tim Gaynor

PHOENIX (Reuters) - Americans swamped auto dealerships on Monday during the final hours of the government's popular "cash-for-clunkers" program, offering rebates of up to $4,500 to trade in older gas guzzlers.

Dealers from California to Texas saw lots empty of cars, pickups and SUVs over the weekend, as once-reluctant customers were lured back into the market by the $3-billion rebate program that ends at 8 p.m. EDT Monday (0000 GMT Tuesday).

The White House Council of Economic Advisers forecast the program would boost the U.S. economy by 0.3 to 0.4 percentage points in the third quarter.

"It's been crazy. We've had lines" of customers, said Scott Gruwell, the sales director at Courtesy Chevrolet in central Phoenix, which has sold 58 new vehicles since Friday.

"We've had the best weekend in literally a year-and-a-half to two years," he added.

The rebate program, which started last month, sought to spur sales in the struggling auto industry while helping the environment. It offered $3,500 to $4,500 to people who trade in a car made since 1984 with lower fuel mileage for a new, more fuel efficient one.

"A lot of these people were trading in cars in the 15-year-old range, and I don't think they had any intention of buying a car -- at least not a new car, maybe a used car," said Mike Szatmary at Brademann Toyota in Park Ridge, Illinois.

"But I think we took a lot of people on the sidelines and put them back in the game," he added.   Continued...

<p>Erlinda Sandoval goes over paperwork for her 1998 Dodge Caravan trade-in with salesman Blake Greenberg (R) during the last day of the "cash-for-clunkers" auto rebate program at the Courtesy Chevrolet dealership in Phoenix, Arizona, August 24, 2009. REUTERS/Joshua Lott</p>